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Former US Attorneys Hope to Level Playing Field for American Indians

Brendan Johnson and Timothy Purdon, both former U.S. attorneys, are leading the American Indian Law and Policy Practice.

The former U.S. attorneys for North Dakota and South Dakota who left to pursue private practice are furthering their mission to give tribes, tribal entities and members equal footing by leading a group dedicated solely to American Indian law.

Brendan Johnson, who was U.S. attorney for South Dakota for six years, and Timothy Purdon, the U.S. attorney for North Dakota for five years, announced earlier this year that they would be joining the law firm Robins Kaplan. Now, they are leading the American Indian Law and Policy Practice as co-chairs of the national practice group.

The goal of the new group is not to replace law firms that have been providing services in Indian country for years, but to partner with other law firms and tribes who could benefit from the resources of a national law firm, according to Johnson.

"Our hope is that a traditional American Indian law boutique firm might reach out to us if their client gets drawn into a dispute against an adversary with a large resource advantage, so that we can work together to achieve justice for their tribal client," Johnson said.

The group will focus on a variety of issues, including commercial disputes and gaming rights; personal injury in Indian country; natural resources; tribal boundary disputes; and judicial systems and public safety issues.

The American Indian Law and Policy Practice was launched with nine members, including one lawyer who spent time living with tribes and doing volunteer work and another lawyer who is an enrolled member of the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, Johnson said. The group will also be drawing on the experience and expertise of the more than 220 attorneys from Robins Kaplan offices across the country as well as an in-house team made up of financial and economic consultants, science advisers, medical professionals and former law enforcement officials.

Purdon said the group has been retained by a large eastern tribe and contacted by several tribal members on a variety of issues. Purdon also represents an American Indian farmer who wants to grow industrial hemp on his reservation, which his tribe has legalized.

Marty Lueck, chairman of the Robins Kaplan's executive board, said for far too long Native American tribes in the United States have faced a competitive disadvantage. Through the policy group, Robins Kaplan will be able to help tribes and tribal entities to be able to obtain justice, no matter who opposes them, Lueck said.

"The cultural experience of American Indian tribes is unlike any other cultural experience we have in America," Lueck said. "Because of this, the tribes occupy a unique space in the American legal system... We bring our belief that everyone is entitled to equal representation and a level playing field in our judicial system."